Signs of the times will soon go away
U.S. Highway 50 is cluttered with temporary signs, a dilemma the city of South Lake Tahoe has faced for years.
But with the recent informational brochure specifying the rules sent out to over 3,000 local businesses, community members are stepping forward and asking the City Council what it can do to help enforce the city ordinance, which bans all temporary and off-site signs and is enforced on a complaint basis only.
“I believe that there is something terribly wrong when those of us complying with the law are placed in a competitive business disadvantage,” said Harry Segal, a partner in Sierra Shirts of Lake Tahoe.
Charlie McDermid, president of the Lodging Association, said he was discouraged with the lack of enforcement policy. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting he offered Lodging Association funds and asked for enforcement to begin by July 4, but the council declined the offer and suggested Labor Day would be a more appropriate date.
“I was attempting to motivate or energize the City Council to beautify Highway 50 in time to save the summer, and I was disappointed it didn’t want to take any action until the end of the summer,” McDermid said.
He said he counted 19 businesses with major offenses along with others with lesser offenses. He also noted that room occupancy has been stagnant over the last eight years and even showed a slight decline during a time of economic prosperity. He attributes the tacky look of temporary signs on U.S. Highway 50 as part of the problem.
City Councilman Tom Davis wanted to give small businesses that can’t afford to advertise any other way, more time to adjust to the ordinance.
“I don’t want to hit small businesses in the peak of summer,” Davis said.
McDermid said he was concerned with small businesses, but he did not think that concern should nullify the law.
“I would have empathy for any business owner who is struggling, but I don’t think we should let them violate the law,” he said.
Davis suggested a four-pronged approach: education, communication, a definitive enforcement date (the weekend after Labor Day), and constant enforcement.
Lou Pierini – owner of Lake Tahoe, Coin, Jewelry and Loan – said major businesses in town are some of the most flagrant violators of the ordinance and should be the first reprimanded.
“Enforce it first on these other people before you pick on the guy who can least afford it,” he said.
But City Manager David Childs, who is working on a solution, said all businesses should be treated equally under the sign ordinance.
“The issue is not about size of business as much as it is making sure you create a level playing field for folks,” he said.
The Chamber of Commerce offered to help the city monitor violators of the ordinance.
“We would not support the creation of a full-time sign enforcement task force, but would support a process whereby the most blatant illegal signs are identified, prioritized, and action taken to remedy the situation,” said Ron Rumble, an executive board member.
The city discussed using interns to catalog violators, but will need to work on a plan for enforcing the ordinance.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has a sign ordinance effective throughout the Tahoe Basin, but does not enforce it.
Pierini did not agree with city enforcement of the sign ordinance because neighboring jurisdictions that compete with South Lake Tahoe do not have enforcement.
“I don’t believe the city needs to spend money enforcing a sign ordinance that is TRPA’s responsibility to do,” he said.
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